Even in the absence of abuse, an emotionally sensitive child can feel out-of-place in their own home; especially if the parents fail to recognize how their child may feel and think differently from them. Telling a hypersensitive child to be stoic and rational, or excessively criticizing them when they have emotional outbursts, can push the child to feel incredibly alienated.
The effect of being an apple that falls far from the tree is compounded by our culture, which promotes the values of masculinity, stoicism, regimentation, and rationalism. As paradoxical as it sounds, emotionally intense people are the most vulnerable to using emotional numbness as a shield to appear ‘normal’ in the world.
Initially, disconnecting made us feel pseudo-calm. It allows us to go on in life, to attend to our work responsibilities, chores and avoid others from worrying about us. It may even be convenient and allow us to appear’ ‘high-functioning’ in the outside world. But this facade comes with a high price. Emotional numbness inhibits our ability to laugh wholeheartedly, express real sadness, or show excitement. We become bystanders in our lives.
Eventually, as we get accustomed to living inside these walls we build around us, we forget who we truly are. We become detached not only from the outside world, but also from our innermost passion, playfulness, and vitality.
People experience numbness differently. You may feel chronically bored, or you may struggle to find words for your feelings. You may detach from your body, gradually losing the ability to be attuned with your body signal of hunger, tiredness, or even losing your sex drive. You may lose the ability to respond to events with joy or sadness, or you struggle to connect with others in a deep and meaningful way.
In Schema Therapy, the wall you built between your true self and your feelings is called “a detach protector’. Much like what its name indicates, it started as a benign attempt to protect us. It was valuable at some point in your life, but might have expired as a survival strategy and is now doing nothing but holds you back.
It is essential to understand that emotional numbness is not a conscious choice and must be compassionate with ourselves. Rather than resenting what has happened, we ought to be grateful to the ‘detached protector’ for saving our lives from unbearable pain.
“Oh God just look at me now… one night opens words and utters pain… I cannot begin to explain to you… this… I am not here. This is not happening. Oh wait, it is, isn’t it?
I am a ghost. I am not here, not really. You see skin and cuts and frailty…these are symptoms, you known, of a ghost.” ― Emily Andrews, The Finer Points of Becoming Machine
10 Signs Of Emotional Numbness
1. You are unable to experience or express emotions – positive or negative, including love and joy.
2. You routinely engage in mind-numbing activities such as TV watching or procrastination. You gain no pleasure from these activities, yet you do not feel motivated to do anything else.
3. You feel disconnected from your own body. You feel fatigued, lifeless, and do not receive signals from your body regarding huger, thirst, tiredness, or other needs.
4. You do not have reactions in situations that would typically evoke emotions such as watching movies or receiving certain news.
5. You feel like a passive observer of your life. Rather than living each moment with vitality, life seems unreal.
6. You go about each day in an auto-pilot mode. In emotional numbness or depersonalization, you are not truly living. You are watching your life in the audience seat.
7. You no longer find joy in doing the activities you once enjoyed. Your memories feel like someone else’s story.
8. You become less and less interested in socializing or connecting with people and feel detached from friends and family.
9. You feel no one knows the real you. And gradually, you know yourself less and less. You lose touch with your own interest, passions, and dream.
10. You feel a lingering sense of boredom.